PETER NEVSKY AND THE TRUE STORY OF THE RUSSIAN MOON LANDING

Sweeping, amusing, at last quite moving mock epic about a Russian spacecraft that shoots for the moon 60 hours before Apollo II lifts off from Houston—and then slowly runs out of luck when entering lunar orbit. Batchelor's staggeringly authentic re-creation of what purports to be the Russian space program matches his well-received earlier successes with historical fiction (1983's The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica and 1985's Niagara Falls-Civil War epic American Falls); here, intaglio craftsmanship shows everywhere—though detail never hinders the pace. A raw innocent, cosmonaut Peter Nevsky, 22, arrives at Starry Town, the USSR's skimpy space center, and finds himself entangled in family politics that bring on a national disaster. A major plot turn should remain veiled here, but let it be said that Peter's surprising tie with the half-insane, evil Mme. Eudaemonia Romodanovsky (whose inapt first name means Good Demon and who is being romantically pursued by the equally evil General Iagoda of State Security) brings plenty of Dostoevskian clout to the page. Iagoda at Eudaemonia's behest has Peter and his beloved Katya kidnapped, beaten, and imprisoned, and Katya dies. Meanwhile, Peter's other large tie is with his three drunken ``uncles,'' the troika of former air aces now at the top of the cosmonaut ladder and earmarked for the moon shot. Peter's father was the finest Russian air ace of WW II and the ``uncles'' are his godfathers. Batchelor spells out marvelously the many competing directorates in Russian politics circa 1963 and shows how rival agencies in a madhouse of surreal allegiances could launch secret high-weaponry wars among themselves without upsetting the nation. The Swiftian final deathtrip to the moon by Peter's three worn-out, broken-down uncles is unforgettable. Superbly bolted-together fantasy you could bang with a wrench.

Pub Date: May 14, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-2141-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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